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He had counted upon Aristide at first, on reading his terrible
articles in the "Independant." But the young man, in spite of all his
jealous rage, was not so foolish as to make common cause with such
a fellow as his uncle. He never even minced matters with him, but
invariably kept him at a distance, a circumstance which induced Antoine
to regard him suspiciously. In the taverns, where Macquart reigned
supreme, people went so far as to say the journalist was paid to provoke
disturbances.

Baffled on this side, Macquart had no alternative but to sound his
sister Ursule's children. Ursule had died in 1839, thus fulfilling her
brother's evil prophecy. The nervous affection which she had inherited
from her mother had turned into slow consumption, which gradually killed
her. She left three children; a daughter, eighteen years of age, named
Helene, who married a clerk, and two boys, the elder, Francois, a young
man of twenty-three, and the younger, a sickly little fellow scarcely
six years old, named Silvere. The death of his wife, whom he adored,
proved a thunderbolt to Mouret. He dragged on his existence for another
year, neglecting his business and losing all the money he had saved.
Then, one morning, he was found hanging in a cupboard where Ursule's
dresses were still suspended. His elder son, who had received a good
commercial training, took a situation in the house of his uncle Rougon,
where he replaced Aristide, who had just left.

Rougon, in spite of his profound hatred for the Macquarts, gladly
welcomed this nephew, whom he knew to be industrious and sober. He
was in want of a youth whom he could trust, and who would help him to
retrieve his affairs. Moreover, during the time of Mouret's prosperity,
he had learnt to esteem the young couple, who knew how to make money,
and thus he had soon become reconciled with his sister. Perhaps he
thought he was making Francois some compensation by taking him into his
business; having robbed the mother, he would shield himself from remorse
by giving employment to the son; even rogues make honest calculations
sometimes. It was, however, a good thing for him. If the house of Rougon
did not make a fortune at this time, it was certainly through no fault
of that quiet, punctilious youth, Francois, who seemed born to pass his
life behind a grocer's counter, between a jar of oil and a bundle
of dried cod-fish. Although he physically resembled his mother, he
inherited from his father a just if narrow mind, with an instinctive
liking for a methodical life and the safe speculations of a small
business.

Three months after his arrival, Pierre, pursuing his system of
compensation, married him to his young daughter Marthe,[*] whom he did
not know how to dispose of. The two young people fell in love with
each other quite suddenly, in a few days. A peculiar circumstance had
doubtless determined and enhanced their mutual affection. There was a
remarkably close resemblance between them, suggesting that of brother
and sister. Francois inherited, through Ursule, the face of his
grandmother Adelaide. Marthe's case was still more curious; she was an
equally exact portrait of Adelaide, although Pierre Rougon had none of
his mother's features distinctly marked; the physical resemblance
had, as it were, passed over Pierre, to reappear in his daughter. The
similarity between husband and wife went, however, no further than
their faces; if the worthy son of a steady matter-of-fact hatter was
distinguishable in Francois, Marthe showed the nervousness and mental
weakness of her grandmother. Perhaps it was this combination of physical
resemblance and moral dissimilarity which threw the young people into
each other's arms. From 1840 to 1844 they had three children. Francois
remained in his uncle's employ until the latter retired. Pierre had
desired to sell him the business, but the young man knew what small
chance there was of making a fortune in trade at Plassans; so he
declined the offer and repaired to Marseilles, where he established
himself with his little savings.

[*] Both Francois and Marthe figure largely in _The Conquest
of Plassans_.

Macquart soon had to abandon all hope of dragging this big industrious
fellow into his campaign against the Rougons; whereupon, with all the
spite of a lazybones, he regarded him as a cunning miser. He fancied,
however, that he had discovered the accomplice he was seeking in
Mouret's second son, a lad of fifteen years of age. Young Silvere had
never even been to school at the time when Mouret was found hanging
among his wife's skirts. His elder brother, not knowing what to do
with him, took him also to his uncle's. The latter made a wry face on
beholding the child; he had no intention of carrying his compensation so
far as to feed a useless mouth. Thus Silvere, to whom Felicite also took
a dislike, was growing up in tears, like an unfortunate little outcast,
when his grandmother Adelaide, during one of the rare visits she paid
the Rougons, took pity on him, and expressed a wish to have him with
her. Pierre was delighted; he let the child go, without even suggesting
an increase of the paltry allowance that he made Adelaide, and which
henceforward would have to suffice for two.

Adelaide was then nearly seventy-five years of age. Grown old while
leading a cloistered existence, she was no longer the lanky ardent girl
who formerly ran to embrace the smuggler Macquart. She had stiffened and
hardened in her hovel in the Impasse Saint-Mittre, that dismal silent
hole where she lived entirely alone on potatoes and dry vegetables, and
which she did not leave once in the course of a month. On seeing her
pass, you might have thought her to be one of those delicately white old
nuns with automatic gait, whom the cloister has kept apart from all the
concerns of this world. Her pale face, always scrupulously girt with a
white cap, looked like that of a dying woman; a vague, calm countenance
it was, wearing an air of supreme indifference. Prolonged taciturnity
had made her dumb; the darkness of her dwelling and the continual
sight of the same objects had dulled her glance and given her eyes the
limpidity of spring water. Absolute renunciation, slow physical and
moral death, had little by little converted this crazy _amorosa_ into a
grave matron. When, as often happened, a blank stare came into her
eyes, and she gazed before her without seeing anything, one could detect
utter, internal void through those deep bright cavities.

Nothing now remained of her former voluptuous ardour but weariness of
the flesh and a senile tremor of the hands. She had once loved like
a she-wolf, but was now wasted, already sufficiently worn out for the
grave. There had been strange workings of her nerves during her long
years of chastity. A dissolute life would perhaps have wrecked her less
than the slow hidden ravages of unsatisfied fever which had modified her
organism.

Sometimes, even now, this moribund, pale old woman, who seemed to have
no blood left in her, was seized with nervous fits like electric shocks,
which galvanised her, and for an hour brought her atrocious intensity of
life. She would lie on her bed rigid, with her eyes open; then hiccoughs
would come upon her and she would writhe and struggle, acquiring the
frightful strength of those hysterical madwomen whom one has to tie down
in order to prevent them from breaking their heads against a wall.
This return to former vigour, these sudden attacks, gave her a terrible
shock. When she came to again, she would stagger about with such a
scared, stupefied look, that the gossips of the Faubourg used to say:
"She's been drinking, the crazy old thing!"

Little Silvere's childish smile was for her the last pale ray which
brought some warmth to her frozen limbs. Weary of solitude, and
frightened at the thought of dying alone in one of her fits, she had
asked to have the child. With the little fellow running about near
her, she felt secure against death. Without relinquishing her habits of
taciturnity, or seeking to render her automatic movements more supple,
she conceived inexpressible affection for him. Stiff and speechless, she
would watch him playing for hours together, listening with delight to
the intolerable noise with which he filled the old hovel. That tomb
had resounded with uproar ever since Silvere had been running about it,
bestriding broomsticks, knocking up against the doors, and shouting and
crying. He brought Adelaide back to the world, as it were; she looked
after him with the most adorable awkwardness; she who, in her youth,
had neglected the duties of a mother, now felt the divine pleasures
of maternity in washing his face, dressing him, and watching over his
sickly life. It was a reawakening of love, a last soothing passion which
heaven had granted to this woman who had been so ravaged by the want of
some one to love; the touching agony of a heart that had lived amidst
the most acute desires, and which was now dying full of love for a
child.

She was already too far gone to pour forth the babble of good plump
grandmothers; she adored the child in secret with the bashfulness of a
young girl, without knowing how to fondle him. Sometimes she took him on
her knees, and gazed at him for a long time with her pale eyes. When
the little one, frightened by her mute white visage, began to cry, she
seemed perplexed by what she had done, and quickly put him down upon the
floor without even kissing him. Perhaps she recognised in him a faint
resemblance to Macquart the poacher.

Silvere grew up, ever tete-a-tete with Adelaide. With childish cajolery
he used to call her aunt Dide, a name which ultimately clung to the
old woman; the word "aunt" employed in this way is simply a term of
endearment in Provence. The child entertained singular affection, not
unmixed with respectful terror, for his grandmother. During her nervous
fits, when he was quite a little boy, he ran away from her, crying,
terrified by her disfigured countenance; and he came back very timidly
after the attack, ready to run away again, as though the old woman were
disposed to beat him.



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Keywords: daughter, sometimes, marthe, physical, between, thought, compensation, brought, seemed, through
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